Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Which A Very Long Scarf Is Hooked, Yarns Are Dyed, And Woods Walked

Gosh, I've never known weather like it. Floods were followed by freezing, followed by snow, followed by more floods, and more snow. Roads were treacherous going on lethal, people were slipping and breaking limbs everywhere, the local councils were run off their feet (well, generally we don't have much need of snow ploughs and grit in this part of the world) and overall everybody had to stay indoors for the best part of a month.

This was the view from my study window on a typical day. It was midday by the way, not dawn or dusk.

And this was a dawn view from the upstairs sitting room. You can just see the sun trying to break through the icy fog.

Now I do realise that this petty little shimmy of less than perfect weather will make many of you laugh hollowly - especially those of you in Canada, Alaska, Maine... We, however, are so unused to it that it nearly drove us mad. One chilly night, one or two bouts of frost are all we ever get, before returning to the normal mild damp and drizzle.

So we were mightily pleased to see the sun yesterday and today. Still pretty cold, but at least there was blue sky. The roads were packed with relieved families getting out to shop, to socialise, to get the fresh air. Let's hope we've seen the last of the ice and snow. (The last of the rain? Ah don't be silly. That's a given. How do you think we keep so green?)

Oh while I think of it, a few people (including Laurie M) asked to see a closer view of the Polperro jacket, so here it is. Still quite pleased with it, and wearing it constantly (which is more than can be said for every Celtic Memory project - bet I'm not the only one with a few horrors in the closet over which endless time and money were expended).

But that project is well finished, and by way of finding something to do during those enforced days when cabin-fever threatened, I became a new pupil at Hogwarts - that is, I joined the Harry Potter Knitting & Crochet House Cup group on Ravelry. (Slytherin House of course). The first homework I undertook was for the Divinations class, where we had to make something to protect the palms of the hands.

I thought fingerless gloves would be about right, and they suited the bleak weather very well. Silk cashmere from the stash, hand-dyed in my favourite violet and used double. These are based on the lovely Cabled Fingerless Gloves by Kimberly, but I adapted the stitch count and the cable pattern a bit.

Here's the fun bit - since they emphasised protection of the palm, I put a tiny pocket on the palm of each glove, suitable for the tucking in of some powerful herb. In times of real danger, both hands can be raised with the palms outwards, thereby knocking any evil influence for six. I've hardly taken these off since completing them. Not so much to protect against bad spirits as to keep my hands warm. Why did I ever mock fingerless gloves? They're wonderful, even at the keyboard.

And then, for the Potions class, I made a Monkshood scarf. I do have this plant in my own physic garden, but at this time of year it's well underground and better off there too.

Using these blue and violet shades of mohair reminded me of how beautiful the monkshood looks in summer. It is apparently excellent as an external embrocation, but exceptionally poisonous if taken internally, so always treat it with respect. Yes, the scarf is hooked rather than knitted. Wanted to make sure I hadn't lost the skill.

Tried something new for me on this project - some delicate beading to emphasise the curving edge of the scarf. Added the beads with the final row of colour, just using a very very fine crochet hook to pull the stitch through each bead. A lot of fun. Must do some more beading.

And finally, since I'd promised faithfully that I would list the new yarns today, at noon, some dyeing had to be done.

These are in a new blend, a rather gorgeous mix of 50% superwash merino and 50% silk. The yarn has a lovely lustre, and a delectable drape. Soft sumptuous socks certainly, but I see cowls and scarves and gloves here too. Left to right, Marsh Marigold, Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry, Wild Iris, Woodland Moss, Wild Rose, and Blue Pool.

You may take this picture for granted, but it took days to achieve, waiting for a gleam of sunlight long enough to get them hung on an obliging tree and then caught swaying gently in an icy wind. Oh for spring! (Those of you digging your way out of twelve feet of snow, feel free to laugh scornfully.)

And then we have these, a right aristocratic pair. Absolute pure silk, both of them, light fingering weight or heavier laceweight, depending on your attitude, 400m to the 100g and - well, what can you say about silk except, 'Grrrr - gimme!'? Enchantress Green on the left, Bluebell Woods on the right. Love 'em both, but have a sneaking preference for the wicked green lady on the left. What a lace scarf she'd make for a Slytherin House student!

It took ages to list them (it always does) so once they were safely up on eBay, a treat was in order. I grabbed Sophy Wackles and we set off for Killarney Woods. Would you believe I haven't been able to get down there since November? Can you imagine the state of the roads after all that appalling weather? I can tell you, I've been in some war zones just after hostilities had ceased, and those roads looked a lot better than the one between Macroom and Ballyvourney. And going towards the city was no better - poor DH has to get four new tyres on his car. Fortunately a jeep can cope better, but even so it was a careful journey down to the woods.

Whenever life is trying, the woods which enclose Torc Waterfall restore the balance of things. There is something about the timeless peace of the place, the ancient hazel woods, the moss-covered rocks, that strokes the heart into calmness. There is a well-used path up to the foot of the waterfall but both Sophy and I prefer to make our way to it through the woods . So would you, I think.

There is always the chance of coming across something unexpected like this little length of old stone wall right in the middle of the trees, on its own, keeping its counsel about what it's doing there. Me, I think there is probably a private entrance leading from that dark little gap at its base to the nice warm tree behind. And very probably a leprechaun or a clurichaun tapping away inside, keeping busy with orders from the Good People for dancing slippers to see in Imbolc or Brigid's Day at the beginning of February. Gold satin for the Queen, better make sure they're ready by tomorrow night or there'll be ructions. High heeled red shoes for that wan, who does he think he is, cocking himself up like that? Where did I put those buttons? And didn't I have a bit more of that green leather left?

I know I've shown you Torc before, and indeed admitted before that the world holds many larger, more splendid examples of waterfalls. What I love about this one though is the way it is cradled in such luxuriant greenness, with ivy and brambles and bushes and trees reaching out and dipping their fingers in the crashing water all the way up to the top. It's at its best after rain, sometimes even three days after, since it takes quite a while for all the water to drain from the mountains down into the rivers.

Take the feeling of Torc to bed with you tonight, and imagine that you are tucked up snug in a little warm cabin in the woods near to the foot of the waterfall. It will make you sleep sound.
[Update. Heavens to Betsy, while I was out in the woods, half those yarns sold! Sorry if you wanted the Chocolate Strawberry or the Woodland Moss...]

Sunday, January 10, 2010

West Cork Moves Closer To The Arctic Circle!

Hooray, hooray, the Polperro gansey jacket finally got finished! Took advantage of the temporary lull that always happens just after Christmas and really got stuck into it. And of course once you concentrate, and don't get distracted by every shiny new idea that whisks in front of your mind's eye, the work does go faster. Right pleased I was to see it all done and dusted. Then we did our best to take a proper knitter's picture of it. You know, the kind you'd see on the front of a pattern, or a magazine. DH did quite a good job on it, although his photographer's eye did insist on giving Dripsey Castle a bit of the limelight as well.

This jacket is the first thing in ages to be absolutely and immediately useful. It's cosy and warm, and bright enough to cheer up the dark days of winter. And has it had some use since being finished! (That was a rhetorical question - it has!)

Because we have had a freezing snap, the like of which hasn't been seen in Ireland, let alone West Cork, for many a long year. Usually we might get a night or two dipping down to almost zero, and then back to the usually milky mild dampness. But this freeze began just before Christmas and hasn't let up since. And today it started snowing and hasn't stopped yet.
Side roads are lethally icy, main roads not much better. Birds are flocking desperately to the garden and we're kept busy refilling feeders all day and putting out dishes of water, since every normal source for them is frozen solid (the dogs keep trying to drink from the pond and looking exasperated when all they can do is lick the ice!)

This bullfinch was methodically stripping every single little forsythia bud from the bush outside the window, but you couldn't really grudge it, could you? To us the shrub might be a pretty sight in flower in spring, but to the bird, it's survival. I'm worrying about all the birds right now, when it's dark and late in the evening, and the snow is falling. We have had incredible flocks of migrants moving in from northern countries over the past few days, a sure sign that whatever it's like here, it's even worse for these little creatures up there.

We went down to Gougane Barra yesterday (on very icy roads) because we'd heard that the entire lake had completely frozen over. And sure enough, it had. A Dutch couple were skating very beautifully, but also very close to the middle of the lake, where it's more than a hundred feet deep. We tried to suggest it wasn't a very good idea but they said cheerfully that they were used to ice at home. Yes, well, the Dutch canals probably freeze solid down to their bones. You just couldn't be sure how thick this ice was out in the centre. Fortunately they survived.

Here are some of the sixth generation of Luceys, enjoying themselves safely close to the edge where they know it's only a few inches deep. The hotel is officially closed for the winter, but we were made welcome of course, as always, and given hot chocolate in the kitchen, while news was exchanged and opinions given on how long the cold weather would last.

And then Christy had to go out to make sure the Jacob rams didn't go hungry after nightfall.

Today DH had several sporting and social jobs on his schedule but they had all been cancelled, not only because of the existing bad weather but because even worse weather is forecast for tonight. However, a newspaper can't exist without pictures, so we went hunting for happy people out walking, children snowballing, that kind of thing. And in between, to see what birds and animals we might find foraging.

At this time of year, you can't possibly pass nice dry dead wood without loading up the car, can you?

Look at this bright-eyed little chap. In summertime you wouldn't have a hope of seeing him amongst all the foliage, but right now, on bare branches, and especially against a white background, he stands out so beautifully. He was more intent on feeding up, naturally enough, than bothering about a pair of nuisances in a car, so we got closer than usual.

And I would love to think that this is his house, where he is tucked up tonight. Now of course the rational adult in me knows that squirrels have dreys, not little houses in a treetrunk, but just look at that door. Well it must be a door! Can't you just see it opening a crack and a bright eye peeping out? And inside there's surely a little hallway full of warm dry brown leaves, and then a little interlaced staircase climbing up through the tree roots to a tiny sitting room above, with a black pot bellied stove, and a cosy armchair upholstered in red check gingham. And above that again, a snug little bedroom all panelled in moss, with a box bed and a big thick eiderdown. If you look closely, you might even be able to see a lattice window artfully hidden underneath that ivy. Well I think it's there anyway.

(OK, those of you who find such imaginative wanderings nauseating, you can come back now.)

I thought I'd leave you with this image. This little lost bridge at Dunisky is very dear to my heart, representing the old world and the old valley before the dam was built far downstream and the area was flooded. Once it spanned the small Buingea river and was very important in its own right.

Neither of us has ever seen it like this before, on its little islet, completely surrounded by a lake of ice. May never do so again. This kind of weather only happens every fifty years or so in this part of the world.

Wherever you are, keep warm, keep happy, feed the birds, and don't forget to look out for the tiny doors in trees near you.